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Good Day. This is Sakata

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こんにちは坂田です。[Konnichi wa, Sakata Desu.]

The late Sakata Eio 9 dan (February 15, 1920~October 22, 2010) was one of the greatest go players of all time. His ultra-sharp style led to him being nicknamed Kamisori (the Razor), and enabled him to win a plethora of titles over the course of his career. In 1964, he won an astounding 93.8% of his games (28-2), taking the Meijin, Honinbo, Nihon Ki-in Championship, Pro Best Ten, Oza, Nihon Ki-in Number One and NHK Cup tournaments, failing only to capture the 10 Dan title. Such a display of virtuosity did much to popularize go throughout Japan.

Over the years, Sakata published many books and articles. The article here comes from Kido [棋道 = きどう = "Way of Games"] magazine. The words at the bottom, 第18回 [だいじゅうはっかい = Dai Juu-Hakkai], mean "18th Installment."

From Honorary Designation to Emeritus Designation

Kido, October 1998

This past August 31, the ceremony was held where Cho Chikun was officially awarded his Honinbo title. My physical condition was good, so although I usually excuse myself from these kinds of events, for this occasion only I made an appearance. At the same time, another reason for attending was that I was slated to receive an award.

At this time, the Mainichi Newspaper [sponsor of the Honinbo tournament] dispensed with the "Honorary" designation. [After Takagawa Kaku won the Honinbo title nine years in a row, from 1952-1960, he was designated as Honorary Honinbo. His successor was Sakata, who won the title seven years in a row, 1961-1967. He was also given the Honorary Honinbo designation. Ishida Yoshio then won the title five years in a row, 1971-1975, at which point it was decided by the newspaper that when any player wins the title five consecutive years, that player would be known as Honorary Honinbo after reaching the age of 60. Incidentally, Cho Chikun won the title ten years in a row. Perhaps he relaxed after besting Takagawa’s record, because lost the next year.] And it decided to adopt the "Emeritus" designation.

As everyone knows, the Honinbo title, which had been a hereditary title [since the 17th century] was given to the Nihon Ki-in [Japanese Go Association] by the 21st Honinbo Shusai Meijin upon his retirement, and turned into a competitive tournament title. So the "Honinbo" name, which had been bequeathed [over the centuries within the House of Honinbo] was reborn as a championship title.

Since then, the Honinbo tournament has been contested over 53 times, [with Cho Chikun winning the 53rd Annual Honinbo Title Match in 1998]. During that period, ten players have won the Honinbo title, with the Honorary designation (requiring the title to be won five years consecutively, or ten years cumulatively) being gained by four players. In order, they are the late Takagawa san, myself, young Ishida Yoshio and then young Cho, who won the title ten years consecutively and 12 years altogether.

Mainichi san [it might seem strange to call an inanimate object "san," but this way of expressing things is an affectionate recognition of the many members of the newspaper who worked hard to make the event a success over several decades and is common in the Japanese culture] wondered if, considering young Cho’s new record, something special might be… That is what was in their minds. Consequently, those players who have earned the Honorary Honinbo designation would be given homage by being deemed as achieving emeritus status, with the starting point being the end of the hereditary system with the 21st Honinbo [Shusai Meijin]. Therefore, the players who followed, by fulfilling the requirements, would be designated as the 22nd Honinbo Emeritus, 23rd Honinbo Emeritus, etc.

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Three of the players who succeeded the 21st Honinbo Shusai. From the left, 25th Honinbo Emeritus Cho Chikun, 23rd Honinbo Emeritus Sakata Eiju [the name he adopted after first winning the title] and 24th Honinbo Emeritus Ishida Shuho [ditto].

Accordingly, Takagawa san was designated as the 22nd Honinbo Emeritus, I became the 23rd Honinbo Emeritus, young Ishida became the 24th Honinbo Emeritus and young Cho was honored as the 25th Honinbo Emeritus. Regardless of the differences with the hereditary and the championship systems, this has made me tremendously happy. That is because my name is chiseled into the 400 years of Honinbo history that began with the 1st Hereditary Honinbo Sansa.

My teacher was the late Masubuchi Tatsuko [November 10, 1904~January 3, 1993]. Shusai Meijin was Masubuchi Sensei’s teacher, so I could be considered Shusai Meijin’s grandson student. I imagine that both Masubuchi Sensei and Shusai Meijin would be delighted at the development that has been decided at this time.

And yet, I have few memories regarding Shusai Meijin. The era in which Shusai Meijin lived (1874~1940) was much different, and at bottom Shusai Meijin cherished the late Fujisawa Hosai 9 dan [March 5, 1919~August 2, 1992], who was one year older than I. He never seemed to cast an eye in my direction.

That was fitting, since Hosai san, while just a year older than I was, at that time displayed outstanding talent, so much so that even I regarded Hosai san as a target, a goal I was aiming at. If I was beneath Shusai Meijin’s notice, well, what is natural is natural.

While "The Complete Games of Sakata" was being compiled, an editor informed me that only one game between Shusai Meijin and myself had been discovered. However, I have only a vague memory of playing that game. I cannot bring to mind much of the conditions at the time.

Meijin Teaching Game

July 6~22, 1937

White: Honinbo Shusai Meijin

Black (3-2-3 stone status; 3 stone handicap): Sakata Eio 2 dan

104 moves. Black wins by resignation.

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1-104 Black 88 takes ko at 4; White 91, same (85)
Those interested in replaying the game move by move can click here to do so.

<Notes> Facing 63 year old Honinbo Shusai was 17 year old Sakata Eio, who fought furiously. As might be expected, no matter how strong the Meijin was, giving three stones to the spirited youngster was a formidable task. The game ended after 104 moves with Black winning. Shusai Meijin praised Black 14, 16, and then, Black’s extending straight out with 32.

Speaking of my memories of Shusai Meijin, they revolve around things like going to the Kyoto residence of the late Fujita Goro Sensei (8 dan) and being welcomed into their circle to play mahjong all night. Shusai Meijin was an expert mahjong player. He wiped everyone out. In that small physique, he possessed outstanding stamina to keep going without getting tired.

The story has veered off on a tangent. At the Honinbo award ceremony, young Cho spoke the following words in which he declared his new goals.

"I admire Takagawa Sensei and I was able to break his record. My next goal is to add Takagawa Sensei’s nine championships in a row to Sakata Sensei’s seven championships in a row to make 16 consecutive wins. And supposing that I get that far, I will next aim at adding Ishida san’s five championships in a row to that, totaling 21 consecutive championships."

The author Ezaki Masanori san spoke the following words in congratulations.

"This is uncharted territory. Everywhere it is being said that it is unprecedented, and there is no need to elaborate, commenting on the ten consecutive championships. I pray — this is an insult to future players, but — that this is a record that will never be broken; a number that is never approached; a record that I hope will keep on standing."

In this series of articles I have written any number of times that when I took the Honinbo title for the first time I was 41 years old. After that, when I was defeated by young Rin Kaiho, I was 48 years old. So I maintained my position as Honinbo for that length of time. Young Cho is 42 years old. That is when I started my run.

Ten consecutive championships is a magnificent feat. However, I would like him to aim at outstripping my record [of maintaining control of the Honinbo title] through the age of 48.

If young Cho breaks my record [of holding the Honinbo title] through the age of 48, he will attain his first goal of winning 16 consecutive championships at the same time.

Those who wish to comment on the opinions expressed here may send their thoughts to info@GoWizardry.com. The most interesting responses will be addressed in future postings.

Robert J. Terry

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